Blog 199: 4.11.8 - 4.11.11

Should ministers of the gospel also be found in the world of civilian politics? No, according to Calvin, citing Ambrose: "to the emperor belongs the palaces; to the priest the churches." The Genevan reformer has in mind the aggregation of civil power by the bishops and especially the Pope of the Roman church. The two offices of minister and magistrate operate in distinctive spheres; the magistrate does not exercise the power of the sword "over consciences" (4.11.8). Civil government is of effect only to the "outer man" (4.20.1). Whereas spiritual government is concerned with instructing conscience in piety, for Calvin, political government is concerned with educating citizens in "the duties of humanity and citizenship" (3.19.15).

This enables Calvin to say (later in the Institutes): "It makes no difference what your condition among men may be or under what nation's laws you live, since the Kingdom of Christ does not at all consist in these things" (4.20.1). Calvin anticipates an inward freedom undisturbed by the external relations of humanity in social-political life. It is in this light that Calvin can uphold obedience to the magistrate even under conditions of tyranny.

For Calvin, then, there are two inter-related, but distinct realms of administration and government: the church and the state.